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May 4, 2022

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey ~ A Review

by Elisabeth Scherer

In the game of Monopoly any time you make a trip around the board past the square that says Go, you get paid $200. Greenlights is a concept kind of like this idea. I listened to the audiobook of this title after seeing so much about it online. I don’t know about you, but I am becoming more and more interested in biographical and autobiographical writing. I like getting to peek inside someone else’s world.  It’s a reminder that we are all individuals, and we all have stories to tell that are uniquely ours and ours alone.

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book cover of nonfiction audiobook Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
October 2020; Random House Audio; B08HLW2JXD
audio (6h 42m), ebook, print (304 pages); Autobiography

Greenlights are the approvals, encouragement, open doors, and opportunities that we find along the way of life. This book reflects on the first fifty years of the actor Matthew McConaughey’s life. He tells us where he came from, and how he was raised with candid portrayals of his parents and siblings. He writes about his circle of people without glossing over faults, mistakes, and problems. He walks us through the major events that have happened in his life that have either directed his path forward or defined how he lives his life.  In doing this, the title fits perfectly for this life guide/pep talk/autobiography.

McConaughey uses 35 years of journal entries to help guide him through his past. The story follows him from a lower middle class, a small town in Texas, to Australia, Hollywood, Africa, and the great Amazon River.  We learn what his early aspirations were, when things changed course to think about acting, and how he made his way into the tough business of acting. The story rounds out with how he met his wife, Camila Alves, and started a family.

My initial impression when listening to this audiobook was that I didn't like it. I thought I was going to struggle to listen to it and lamented, as one usually does when first impressions are disappointing, that I might not be able to finish it. I persisted though, and through his iconic voice and wonderful storytelling, it became more like listening to an old radio drama. McConaughey, as we all know, is gifted at telling a story because that's what makes good actors. He brings his uniqueness to audio narration where I think if you dropped into this audiobook, you would certainly know who he is within the first ten seconds. 

The book is put together as one part autobiography, one part scrapbook, and a journal with photos and snippets from his years of journaling added in. Oh, and one part Bumper sticker wisdom. It gives the book a more intimate feeling and was part of the reason I opted to also go buy the physical copy of the book after starting the audiobook. McConaughey also has a tendency at times to run words and phrases together quickly, so a physical copy of the book makes me slow that pace down to absorb what he was saying.

There are some cautions about the book that needs to be mentioned. I want to say that this title isn't for everyone. There is an abundance of cursing, talk of drug use, sex, triggers for physical abuse, occasional violence, and a disregard for some rules and laws. If you are one that can take a step back and understand the family, place, and time Mr. McConaughey grew up in and what was acceptable, then you may be able to look past these aspects of his book. On the outside, it may appear to be a self-centered, egotistical work of writing, but you need to take a longer look to see what advice he is trying to pass on to anyone willing to listen.

There are some nuggets of wisdom that McConaughey passes on that can be used to help the reader have a different perspective on events that happen in life. He talks about how some yellow lights or red lights can change into green lights. Yellow lights refer to proceeding with caution and red lights are an initial no answer.  These situations slow us down and "sometimes by saying no, give us what we need." But as he points out, "all yellow and red lights eventually turn green."   He is unabashedly himself there is no doubt about that. 

Some things I found fascinating about McConaughey's life were his yearlong foreign exchange student experience in Australia, the way he develops characters for some of the iconic roles we know him for, and the conviction he had when he decided to pivot in his career away from where he was comfortable to where he wanted to be. 

"if you're not a starter
and you think you should be,
give em no choice in the decision.
Play so well it's undeniable."
 page 115

These little bits of wisdom are things that we all learn with life experiences or get passed to us from parents, teachers, or people we admire. Greenlights is chock-full of them and if you read with the intention of finding something to apply to your own life, you might just find some that are pure gold. The overall story of the book is a coming-of-age story about an American boy and what life has taught him. Who better to tell this story than the boy himself?

Just like any acting role he has taken on, in Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey knows his man. He knows three things:  He has a strong work ethic. He has persistent determination. He has a zest for life that is contagious.  As he would say, "Alright, Alright, Alright."

Buy Greenlights at Amazon

Elisabeth Scherer is a lifelong bookworm who loves discovering new favorite authors. She is a watercolor and mixed media artist who lives in Minnesota with her husband and two children.

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